by Victoria M. Howard
What horse trainer has won two Little Brown Jugs, two Jugettes, two North America Cups, two Metros, five Breeders Crowns, two Fan Hanovers, one Adios, two Ben Franklins, three Ontario Sires Stakes Super Finals and one She’s A Great Lady? Oh, and did I mention the conditioner was also the O’Brien Award’s Trainer of the Year five times (and a winner of 21 O’Briens total), the trainer of the Horse of the Year in the United States and three times was the trainer of Canada’s Horse of the Year?
I’m not talking about Ron Burke or Jimmy Takter — although they were the two highest-ranking harness trainers in 2018. The trainer I’m talking about, who has won more trophies and awards than Walt Disney won Oscars, is Casie Coleman.
Born and raised in the business, harness racing is all Casie has ever known. She has never had a single job outside of the sport.
After working under her father, Phil Coleman, and other trainers such as Bill Davis, Todd Beelby, Travis Umphrey and John Zahara, Casie went out on her own and quickly took the sport by storm.
“I learned the most working with my dad. He was the biggest influence, although Bill Davis also taught me a lot.
“I moved to Ontario from British Columbia in 2002. The first time I raced in the U.S. was in 2005 with the horse American Ideal who I got late in his 2-year-old year. I felt lucky and blessed to have such a wonderful horse and at the time thought it would be a hard act to follow.
“As soon as American Ideal was sent to me, I knew he was pretty special. Up until then I never had a horse like him. That year he won the Winter Series at Woodbine really impressively. After that I called his owner, Mac Nichol, and suggested we shut him down and stake him pretty good for the next year. He hadn’t been staked much so we had to supplement him a lot.
“In 2007 I ran an operation out of New Jersey; thus I was operating a stable in Canada and one in the United States. Originally, I wanted to be a driver and began driving for some people. Ironically, I never really wanted to train. I was grooming and driving for my dad at Flamboro Downs when I was asked to fill in for someone who didn’t show up at a New Owners Seminar. That day, a man named Merlin Howse came up to me and introduced himself. Several days later he called and asked me to look for a horse for him to train. I told him to talk to my dad or another trainer for I was not a trainer. At that time I didn’t even own a halter or harness of my own. But Mr. Howse insisted I find him a horse so I claimed a filly named Keeper Flyin (who I still own today) and started training and driving her. She did very good for us and made us money which we parlayed into getting a bigger and better stable.”
And boy did she ever, for Coleman has trained numerous champions. There was Sportswriter, Betterthancheddar, Betting Line, American Ideal, McWicked, Art Colony, Western Silk, Chancey Lady, Our Lucky Killean, Vegas Vacation and Michaels Power to name a few.
Just plain lucky or does Casie something special?
It has been said that Casie “has an eye” for picking out a yearling so I asked her what she looks for.
“I’m really not biased on buying or training a filly or colt, although a colt has a chance to make more money and an opportunity to sell at the end of his racing career as a stallion. I look for as perfect of an individual as I can find. I like medium-sized horses, good conformation, a smart head, a good eye, big throats and I like them to have white on them. Most of my good ones had white somewhere and I am superstitious so I like a little white on them. They have to move well in the field and land light with no wasted motion. And I like the ones who show attitude and never buy a horse with a bad attitude who doesn’t like doing their job.”
For the past nine years Coleman has winter trained in South Florida.
“No matter where they train, a good horse is a good horse, but winter training in sunny Florida has lots of benefits. There are few missed days, no snow or ice to slip on, no frigid temperatures to hurt their lungs and Florida training is not only better for the animal, but also for the people,” she said.
Coleman has made a very lucrative career in harness racing, but knows the sport could be better.
“There are several things that can be done to help the sport. First, we have to stop dragging races out — when the clock says 0 minutes to post, it should be 0 minutes, not 8 to 12. There should be less time in between races and more paddock interviews to get fans interested in the game. If a big favorite gets beat, we need to do a live interview with the trainer/driver to give the bettors some insight of what happened. The tracks need to offer food and drinks cheaper so people can bring their family and enjoy a night out they can afford.”
Which people does Casie look up to in the sport?
“There are a lot of people. Obviously, Jimmy Takter, for he puts amazing numbers out year after year and Ron Burke for the numbers he has every year is insane.”
Besides being blessed by having consecutive amazing years doing what she loves to do and does best, Casie recently added a two-legged male to her stable to help assist her.
“I got married two years ago to a great man. His name is Mark Herlihy, but I call him Kiwi. At first it was very hard working together but we have adjusted and now know what to expect from each other. He’s really a lot of help. We have our differences and opinions, but on the whole, it’s working out well. We get along and it’s fun. At this time, we only have 15 horses, which is a smaller stable than I’m used to, so for Mark and I, it’s a pretty laid-back lifestyle. It doesn’t feel like work or a job. Like all other trainers and owners, we are just hoping for a successful year.”